Past Postmarks & Paperbacks

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Postmarks & Paperbacks is an online book club for lovers of books, letters, and the art and history of communication. It meets quarterly to discuss postal-themed books, including a range of selections drawing from epistolary novels, popular history books about the USPS or philately, and novels in which letters, the post office, or stamps play a central role. We think you’ll be surprised and delighted by the range of books this encompasses, so dive in and read along with us as we explore these themes.

Here you can find resources from past Postmarks and Paperbacks meetings—blurbs for the books chosen, discussion questions used, and further resources such as books, articles, and National Postal Museum objects that explore the themes in the books.

Upcoming Postmarks and Paperbacks events

Past Postmarks & Paperbacks books, discussion questions, and further resources:

(Click the below links to reveal resources.)

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

When two rich young gentlemen move to town, they don't go unnoticed - especially when Mrs Bennett vows to have one of her five daughters marry into their fortunes. But love, as Jane and Elizabeth Bennett soon discover, is rarely straightforward, and often surprising. It's only a matter of time until their own small worlds are turned upside down and they discover that first impressions can be the most misleading of all.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Bernadette Fox has vanished.
When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms. Fox is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces--which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades. Where'd You Go Bernadette is an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are and the power of a daughter's love for her mother.

Between Home and the Front: Civil War Letters of the Walters Family edited by Lynn Heidelbaugh and Thomas J. Paone

Between Home and the Front: Civil War Letters of the Walters Family follows several members of the Walters family from the first year of the war to its aftermath and encompasses moments when they thrived, survived, and suffered loss at home in the small farming communities of northern Indiana to the battlefields of the Midwest, South, and East. Their postmarked envelopes and missives contained the necessary details to trace and map the movements of Rachel, David, Isaac, and John Wesley Walters. From their letters, the vagaries of the writers’ original spellings, grammar, punctuation, and language—retained in the book’s transcriptions—make the literacy levels, personal preferences, as well as period customs of correspondence apparent. The words and expressions of each writer capture unique insights into the conflict's effects on individuals, families, communities, and America.

Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting by Kitty Burns Florey

Author Kitty Burns Florey tackles the importance of writing by hand and its place in our increasingly electronic society in this fascinating exploration of the history of handwriting. Weaving together the evolution of writing implements and scripts, pen-collecting societies, the golden age of American penmanship, the growth in popularity of handwriting analysis, and the many aficionados who still prefer scribbling on paper to tapping on keys, she asks the question: Is writing by hand really no longer necessary in today’s busy world?

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

The 33rd book in Pratchett's Discworld series (though not a book that requires having read the rest of the series!), Going Postal, tells the story of convicted criminal, Moist von Lipwig, who agrees to become Ankh-Morpork's Postmaster rather than be hanged. Faced with a never-ending series of hurdles, including the premature deaths of many former Postmasters, Moist must find a way to ensure the mail gets through.

All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad

This novel tells the story of a young woman who, when her mother suddenly dies, delivers mysterious letters left by her mother to men whose names she’s never heard.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula with the purchase of a London house, he makes a series of horrific discoveries about his client. Soon afterwards, various bizarre incidents unfold in England: an apparently unmanned ship is wrecked off the coast of Whitby; a young woman discovers strange puncture marks on her neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the 'Master' and his imminent arrival.

In Dracula, Bram Stoker created one of the great masterpieces of the horror genre, brilliantly evoking a nightmare world of vampires and vampire hunters and also illuminating the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire.

Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher's life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women's Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn't expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.

For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngsen

In Denmark, Professor Anders Larsen, an urbane man of facts, has lost his wife and his hopes for the future. On an isolated English farm, Tina Hopgood is trapped in a life she doesn’t remember choosing. Both believe their love stories are over.

Brought together by a shared fascination with the Tollund Man, subject of Seamus Heaney’s famous poem, they begin writing letters to one another. And from their vastly different worlds, they find they have more in common than they could have imagined. As they open up to one another about their lives, an unexpected friendship blooms. But then Tina’s letters stop coming, and Anders is thrown into despair. How far are they willing to go to write a new story for themselves?

 

Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate by Carolyn Porter

A graphic designer’s search for inspiration leads to a cache of letters and the mystery of one man’s fate during World War II.

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island's Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl's fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.